See My Special Girl's special event

Veterinarian Regina Turner takes My Special Girl for some exercise on the Penn vet school's New Bolton Center campus.
Veterinarian Regina Turner takes My Special Girl for some exercise on the Penn vet school's New Bolton Center campus.
Posted: March 14, 2014

REGINA Turner keeps pager, cellphone and surgical scrubs next to her bed in case the baby comes in the middle of the night. But rather than wait for water to break, she's looking for milk to drip from an udder.

After all, My Special Girl is expected to deliver her foal within the next couple of weeks.

And you can watch, right now through the live birth, via the new "foal cam" on the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine's website, vet.upenn.edu/FoalCam.

"We get requests to see what goes on behind the scenes all the time," said Turner, a vet and an associate professor of large-animal reproduction at the Georgia and Philip Hofmann Research Center for Animal Reproduction, at Penn's New Bolton Center.

"We can't have the public walking through due to client confidentially issues, so this is an opportunity to show the world what we do."

The public also will have a say in the foal's name. Penn will post voting choices on the website after the birth.

My Special Girl, an 11-year-old thoroughbred, was donated seven years ago to Penn Vet's large-animal clinic in Chester County to help veterinary students learn to examine horses and their reproductive tracts.

"The vast majority of our students have only worked with cats and dogs prior to My Special Girl and her herd mates," Turner said. "We teach them how to put a halter on and listen to a horse's heartbeat. Patients often take for granted that their vet knows how to do these things properly."

My Special Girl's pregnancy was a result of intracytoplasmic sperm injection, the first successful ICSI procedure at Penn Vet.

A single sperm cell from a deceased Thoroughbred-Quarter Horse-cross stallion's frozen semen was implanted into an egg from a Thoroughbred-Cleveland Bay-cross mare last April. Doctors used a high-powered microscope with mini chemical droppers attached to a micromanipulator to perform the procedure.

ICSI will make it easier for stallions and mares with reproductive issues to have offspring.

"The advanced reproduction process salvages legacies," Turner said. "All of the equipment costs well over $100,000, in addition to maintaining a well-trained staff of specialists. So, we're very lucky to be supported by a university like UPenn."

When it's old enough, My Special Girl's foal will be adopted by Rose Nolen-Walston, a vet and a New Bolton Center assistant professor of medicine who has adopted six horses from the New Bolton Center over the past seven years.

"I grew up on a farm in England and dreamt of becoming an Olympic rider," Nolen-Walston said. "But then I fell in love with taking care of animals, so now my 10-year-old daughter competes."

My Special Girl will return to her "teaching" duties at the vet school, but her foal will train with former Canadian Olympic Eventing member Lisa Fergusson in show jumping, dressage and cross-country competition.

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